We Need To Talk About Privacy

I tried, rather ineffectually, probably, to address this point recently and, because I had a word limitation, didn’t really do the topic justice. What I was trying to get at, in a ham-fisted and blancmange-minded way, was that our relationship with privacy has changed, and is being changed, irrevocably, and no-one has really seemed to notice.

At least I assume that’s the reason for the quite awe-inspiring levels of apathy being displayed in relation to doing something about it. (And yes, I’m in there with the awe-inspiring apatheticals and in some ways, I’m worse because here I am writing about it, without the slightest intention of marching on the offices of Facebook or MI5, brandishing a banner reading ‘What do I want ? Privacy! When do I want it? Not going to tell you!’)

And speaking of Facebook, which I was, I read just last night of what it takes to get into their office as an outsider. Amongst other things, it involves signing  a multi-page and multi-section confidentiality agreement. Lest any of us have forgotten, this is the same Facebook that was founded – and is run – by the odious boy turd Zuckerberg, he of the belief that ‘privacy is no longer the norm’. Unless you’re him, or happen to work for his company, in which case, privacy is rather more than the norm, seemingly.

Privacy is becoming the province of the privileged. It’s something you’ll end up having to pay for, and it’ll be the few that can afford it. And how did this happen – grandchildren will asked their wizened, online grandparents – and the answer will come back in a regretful whisper ‘because we didn’t value it and we gave it away’. And – as I will take delight in exemplifying later – we’re doing it even though we know we’re doing it and even though we’re being told that we’re doing it, by those who are facilitating the doing on our behalf. See what I mean about apathy?

But quickly, before I get on to what is for me, anyway, the almost illicit pleasure of stripping the sequins off of social media (using social media in a very loose sense here), my target today – lovely blogtrotters mine – being the so-many-levelly ridiculous Snapchat, I just wanted to have a quick dig around the issue of privacy, just so posterity knows what I was on about.

Privacy works two ways, especially when it comes to the ubiquity of t’interweb. And in both ways, it is increasingly going horribly wrong – and for all sorts of different reasons. Even I cannot blame social media themselves for the avalanchical erosion of what used to be a valued and fiercely-protected right, no – it’s a combination of corporate profiteering, uncontrolled new technology (I’ve always maintained that the internet should have been regulated way back in the early ’90s – blame the media hippies) and the absolute propensity for being a complete cretin that characterises a (very) large proportion of the world’s population.

So privacy’s gone, because people give it away via a lack of understanding of what they’re doing, and the ramifications that their actions might have (I doubt Sally Bercow’s reading – she’s probably still wondering how she’s going to raise the money to pay McAlpine). Privacy’s gone because some people believe that, because others have started on the road to giving it away, it’s OK to take it (as amply evidenced by Leveson). But privacy still exists for those who arguably shouldn’t have it – the viewers of illegal websites that go on to commit horrific crimes – they have privacy not because they’re not giving it away (by using a computer with an individual IP address, you’re identifying yourself, or at least your whereabouts) but because – for one reason or another, the ISPs don’t want to share that data with the authorities.

All cock-eyed, d’you see. Mental. Privacy needs to be addressed. Maintained for those who will miss it later – no matter how hard they try to give it away – and stripped from the undeserving. Clearly, one solution would be to turn off the internet.

Pause.

Another solution would be to have some sort of global recognition system – a password unique to you – that you’d have to submit to before accessing the internet. The problem with that, obviously (and as was gleefully pointed out to me by someone who thought they’d seen the fatal flaw in my argument) is that you’d really have to keep your unique identity very private indeed, or some horrible gnoll would be masquerading as you before you could say ‘brazzers’.  But for those of us who are sensible enough manage to keep our passwords and PINs secret, so what’s the deal with a unique password. And even if enough deeply flawed people prove that it’s not going to work, then how about biometrics. Just thinkin’.

Anyhoo. Snapchat. Well, apart from sounding like one of those dodgy premium ‘phone lines that are advertised on the late night telly when you’re watching (or is it just me) Blade III on Five Star, it’s another photo sharing site. But what makes it quite mind-bogglingly ridiculous is that the pictures shared on Snapchat disappear after 10 seconds. Alright (you may say) this (ostensibly) means that the really stupid picture you took of yourself after eleventy-nine tequilas, and then sent to all of your contact list, including (d’oh) your boss, disappears. Phew. What a relief. Not like the very same picture that you posted to Facebook. Ooops.

But. And here’s the whole privacy schtick, in both its forms. Because if the pictures (ostensibly) disappear after 10 seconds, what’s to stop you posting stuff that even you, in your addled state, might have considered a bit de trop before? Yes, Snapchat is fuelling the rise of the ‘selfie’. (And, blog snorkellers mine, if you don’t know what a selfie is, then – well – google it. Stop! Not if you’re at work.) Apparently, 54% of Snapchat users in the UK have received an ‘inappropriate picture’ – and the mind literally boils over. More privacy being given away – in the simple belief that whatever you’ve shared won’t be  available after 10 seconds has passed.

Ah. Yes. Sorry. In a message to users, the company responded “If you’ve ever tried to recover lost data after accidentally deleting a drive, or maybe watched an episode of CSI, you might know that with the right forensic tools, it’s sometimes possible to retrieve data after it has been deleted.” Which means – and I’ll spell it out for the hard of thinking – that your image doesn’t disappear after 10 seconds. Not completely. No, it’s still retrievable from a server somewhere near Palo Alto.

So, thanks to Snapchat, we have ordinary people in the grip of internet Tourette’s sharing far more stuff that they may have done previously, even though they’re being told, quite clearly, by the purveyor of the medium, that the stuff they’re sharing, while it (ostensibly) disappears from their (and their contact’s) devices after 10 seconds, is actually being stored somewhere. And the medium – in this case Snapchat – is saying that it would take a CSI investigation to find it, even though some of it may be so out of the park that it should, actually, be sent directly to Interpol/the FBI.

Do you know, I was right to suggest turning off the internet. Until the human race, as a whole, is mature enough to deal with it.

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